Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Uncommon Sense—the blog

OI History: Tales from Former Apprentices, Part 5

· October 3rd, 2018 · No Comments

As part of our seventy-fifth anniversary, we at the Omohundro Institute continue to reflect on what makes our institution such a special place. One of those things is our Apprenticeship in Historical Editing. Today’s guest post comes from former apprentice Martha J. King who is now a senior editor at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

By Martha J. King

Among the professional tools of the trade I still treasure from my apprenticeship summer are my blue lead mechanical pencil, a well-worn Chicago Manual of Style (13th edition), a dog-eared Strunk and White Elements of Style, and a 33-page Institute Style Sheet for Authors (revised guide, 1973). That information alone will probably date my time as an Institute editorial apprentice. It was this well-organized program of professional training that first attracted me to William & Mary for graduate school. In a six-week, full-time apprenticeship program in that summer of 1985, I was introduced not only to the humidity of Tidewater Virginia, but also the incredible world of scholarly publishing in which I have made my professional career ever since. I remember well the smoke-filled seminar room where Anne Kelly, managing editor of the WMQ and a cigarette smoker, and Gil Kelly, managing editor of the book publications program and a pipe smoker, unraveled the intricacies of grammar, punctuation, style, and provided exercises in copy editing and substantive editing. They entertained us with personal anecdotes of publishing and tales of authors past and present. How fitting that one of the first book manuscripts my compatriots and I tandem proofread out loud that smoky summer was Allan Kulikoff’s Tobacco and Slaves!

We reeled through microfilm and sleuthed in the stacks of Swem to track down title pages and quotations, checking each and every annotation an author cited.  I was amazed by the high bar for scholarly excellence set by the Institute and was keenly aware of the importance of the work we were doing to maintain those standards.  I realized that even the most senior and accomplished of historians can and does make mistakes and everyone benefits from a close read of his or her work before publication.

In addition to the in-house training, we had field trips including a visit to William Byrd Press in Richmond (printer of the WMQ) and to UNC Press in Chapel Hill to meet with press director, editors, and staff who worked on the Institute’s books. A trip to the colonial print shop on Williamsburg’s Duke of Gloucester Street included hands-on experience making paper, inking type, and pulling the presses. From this introduction, I found my research passion, dissertation topic on colonial women printers, and scholarly focus on print culture.

While the formal apprenticeship training ended that summer, the work continued for ten hours each week throughout the academic year and beyond as I became an Institute intern in the doctoral program. Along with Matthew C. Ward, I created and edited a 15-year cumulative index (1973-1988) for the WMQ. I learned that indexes are valuable conceptual tools (not everything is keyword searchable!). The editors of the Papers of John Marshall, an Institute documentary edition, exposed me to another facet of historical editing besides monograph or journal publishing. Mentors at the Institute encouraged me to apply for an NHPRC fellowship in historical editing, which helped launch my career as a historian who has been happily employed as a documentary editor ever since. Today I am a senior editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton University.

The skills I learned and the publishing practices I mastered continue to serve me well. I learned the truly collaborative nature of scholarly publishing and the collegiality that was second-nature to this unique Institute enterprise in which everyone contributed to the good of the whole. We learned the importance of conferences for professional development and networking, the value of polite and constructive correspondence with authors, and the pride of seeing a finished manuscript through to publication. My apprenticeship memories include the ritual of Friday morning coffee where baking skills, Gil Kelly’s offbeat wit, and Thad Tate’s raconteurship were all on full display. Most of all, I learned that editing is an art and a worthwhile enterprise, not just a fallback career for those who don’t attain tenure-track employment.  The collegial nature of the Institute and its standard of scholarly and editorial excellence left a lasting impression for which I will always be grateful.

We’ll be taking a break for a few weeks from this series, but be on the lookout for parts 6-9 of OI History: “Tales from Former Apprentices” in November.

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